In SISO fraud trial, Judge Ramsay tells Board Chair Hussein Hamdani that he does not understand “why you – a lawyer – wouldn’t ask the police to investigate the allegation of a crime”
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Author: Joan Walters
Source: The Spectator / Hamilton, August 30, 2013, p. A1
Original title: Ex-SISO finance boss points finger at CEO: Accused of taking funds for extra pay
The former executive in charge of SISO finances acknowledged he was “part of the process” that mired the Hamilton refugee agency in wrongdoing.
But former finance director Robert Salama testified it was former CEO Morteza Jafarpour who instituted the regime of false documentation and overbilling at the Settlement and Integration Services Organization.
“I acknowledge being part of the process established by the chief executive,” Salama – who is not represented by a lawyer – told the jury in his statement of defence. “But I have not taken any unauthorized payments.”
Salama, who has been in custody since his arrest in September 2012, is on trial with Jafarpour for what the Crown alleges was a sophisticated scheme to defraud Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) of at least $1 million. Jafarpour’s defence is that he was unaware of financial misdeeds by other staff at the publicly funded agency he supervised.
“We all agree fraud happened at SISO,” Jafarpour said earlier Thursday as his own defence wrapped up. “The issue is who benefited.”
Jafarpour has pointed to Salama and Nese Burgaz, a former financial administrator, as the two who heartlessly helped themselves to funds designated for immigrants and refugees.
Court has heard that SISO money funded a swimming pool at the home of Burgaz, and that Salama got extra pay of up to $2,500 biweekly not recorded on SISO’s accounts.
Salama told the jury Thursday the payments were for things such as overtime and expenses, and were authorized by Jafarpour. Salama’s key defence is that he was forced – sometimes under the threat of losing his job – to do what Jafarpour directed.
Salama said Jafarpour told him “always to claim the maximum allowable salary amount” from CIC for employees, even if SISO workers were being paid less.
Salama said this was one part of Jafarpour’s scheme to create surplus funds for SISO.
SISO went bankrupt in January 2011, two years after reporting a $2-million surplus. A forensic accountant for the RCMP testified earlier in the trial that one year SISO claimed $1.2 million more from CIC than it paid out to employees.
Salama reminded the jury of testimony from two former information technology staffers, who said Jafarpour told them to duplicate SISO’s externally administered payroll system so fake pay stubs could be generated in-house. This was one example of how SISO routinely faked documentation to substantiate its claims to CIC, Salama said.
Jafarpour’s lawyer dismissed the testimony.
“I think the problem is, Mr. Salama, you were just greedy,” said defence lawyer Dean Paquette. “You just wanted as much as you could suck out of SISO.”
Earlier Thursday, Jafarpour testified that Salama wrote himself $59,000 in unauthorized SISO cheques, using an alternate name. Court heard the cheques were payable to Ahmed Mahmoud Abdallah, a name the RCMP established was used by Salama.
Salama later told the jury that Ahmed Mahmoud Abdallah Salama is his legal name. The name that appears on the criminal indictment for charges at this trial is Ahmed Salama, although he is known by the first name Robert.
The two former SISO bosses are each charged with seven counts of uttering forged documents, one count of fraud over $5,000 and one count of conspiracy to commit an indictable offence. A count of mischief to data was dropped.
Also on Thursday, former SISO board chair Hussein Hamdani was questioned by the Crown, and then the judge, over his failure to tell police about allegations of document manipulation against Jafarpour that came to Hamdani’s attention in the fall of 2010.
Court has heard that former SISO staffer Marius Carciumaru wrote an email to Hamdani and another member of the board as a last attempt to get someone to act on his concerns.
Carciumaru – one of the staffers ordered to duplicate the payroll system – said in the email that he’d been ordered to alter a document.
Hamdani testified he didn’t have evidence, or even know what Carciumaru meant by altering a document.
“I don’t understand why you – a lawyer – wouldn’t ask the police to investigate the allegation of a crime,” Justice James Ramsay told Hamdani.
SISO came under federal scrutiny through 2009 and 2010 for suspected inflated claims to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, its major funder. CIC suspended funding to SISO in January 2010, while it investigated, and by February that year, an Audit Services Canada probe was under way as well. Funding was gradually cut and by the fall of 2010, SISO was aware it would not survive.
The Crown and defence have completed their cases. Summations to the jury begin Tuesday.
Caption: Former SISO board chair Hussein Hamdani Hamilton Spectator file photo